A doctor who may have been the first person in China to try to spread the word about the coronvirus was reprimanded and told to remain silent. Earlier this month she disobeyed that order and gave an interview to a Chinese magazine.
Ai Fen, director of the emergency department at Wuhan Central Hospital, told Chinese magazine People that she posted an image of a diagnostic report on social network WeChat on December 30, showing that the patient had a pneumonia infection caused by a Sars-like coronavirus…
Ai told the magazine she alerted the hospital’s community health service centre and infectious disease control department immediately.
“I even grabbed our hospital respiratory department director, who happened to be passing my office, and told him that one of his patients was confirmed to have been infected with a Sars-like virus,” she said.
The same day she posted the screenshot online, she was reprimanded for “spreading rumors.”
Ai said she was told by superiors the day she sounded the alarm that Wuhan’s health commission had issued a directive that medical workers were not to disclose anything about the virus, or the disease it caused, to avoid sparking a panic. Soon after, the hospital reminded all staff that public disclosure related to the illness was forbidden.
Two days later, an official in charge of the hospital’s supervision department gave Ai a dressing down for “spreading rumours” – a reference to the photograph she had posted online.
She told the magazine, “If I had known what was to happen, I would not have cared about the reprimand. I would have f**king talked about it to whoever, where ever I could.” Shortly after her interview was published it was pulled down by Chinese censors.
This week, 60 Minutes Australia reported that Dr. Ai has disappeared. You can see the full report below. The NY Post says that after the 60 Minutes report Dr. Ai’s social media account was updated, however it’s not clear if she’s the one doing it.
Soon after the program aired, Ai posted a cryptic message to her page on the Chinese social media site Weibo.
“A river. A bridge. A road. A clock chime,” read the post, coupled with a Wuhan cityscape photo…
And on Wednesday, she shared a post captioned, “Happy April Fools Day,” showing her wearing a lab coat and mask, apparently at work at the hospital.
But RFA reported that detainees in custody in China have been known to either update their own social media accounts under authorities’ orders, or police may do so after gaining access to their devices.
April Fools Day is something Chinese people celebrate, however I noticed that the CCP apparently banned it in 2016. In fact, the kind of restrictions on spreading rumors that Dr. Ai and Dr. Li both ran afoul of were also used to attempt to stamp out April Fools Day:
As part of a long-running effort to win control of the narrative on social media and deter dissent, China’s Communist Party launched a campaign three years ago to criminalize the spreading of rumors. Xinhua’s post suggests an April Fools’ Day prank that mocked or undermined the party could have potentially serious consequences.
Here’s the full 60 Minutes Australia report. The bit about Dr. Ai’s disappearance comes about eight and a half minutes in. There’s a fair amount of Trump bashing in the latter half of this clip (including a Trump impersonator reading his tweets) but the bulk of it is about China’s culpability and attempted cover up.